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Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910). A Happy Boy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Chapter VIII

MY DEAR PARENTS, “WE have got a great deal more work to do now, but now I have nearly made up to the others so that it is not so hard upon me. And there is much that I shall alter on the farm when I come home, for things are very bad there, and the only wonder is that it has held together at all. But I shall get it all into shape again, for I have now learned a great deal. I am longing to get to some place where I can put in practice what I know, so I must seek a good position when my course is finished. Here they all say that John Hatlen is not so clever as they think at home; but he has a farm of his own, and it’s his own affair whether he knows much or little. Many who have gone through our course earn large salaries; that is because ours is the best agricultural college in the country. Some say that one in the next county is better, but that is not at all true. Here they teach us two things: the first is called theory, and the second practice, and it is good to have them both, and the one is no good without the other, but still the last is the best. And the first word means to know the cause and reason for a piece of work, but the other means to be able to do the work, for instance as it might be with a bog. Many know what ought to be done with a bog, but do it wrongly all the same, for they haven’t the power. Many have the power and don’t know the reasons for things, and they may go wrong too, for there are many kinds of bogs. But we at the Agricultural College learn both things. The principal is so clever that no one can come near him. At the last Agricultural Congress he managed two questions whilst the other masters of agriculture had only one each; and when they took time to think things out, they were always as he said. But at the former Congress, when he was not present, they only talked nonsense. It is on account of the principal’s cleverness that he has got the lieutenant who teaches land-surveying; for the other schools have no lieutenant. But he is so clever that they say he was the very best in the school for lieutenants.    1
  “The schoolmaster asks whether I go to church. Yes, certainly I go to church, for now the minister has got an assistant, and he preaches so that all the people in church are frightened, and that is a pleasure to hear. He is of the new religion that they have in Christiania, and people think he is too severe, but it does them good all the same.    2
  “At present we are learning a good deal of history which we have not studied before, and it is strange to see all that has gone on in the world, and especially in our country. For we have always won except when we have lost, and that was when we were much fewer than the other people. Now we have freedom, and no other people have so much of that as we, except America; but there they are not happy. And we should love our freedom above everything.    3
  “Now I will close for this time, for I have written a long letter. I daresay the school-master will read the letter, and when he answers it for you, let him tell me some news of the neighbours, for that he never does.    4
  “Accept best greetings from
“Your affectionate son,
  “MY DEAR PARENTS, “I must tell you that there has been an examination here and I have come out remarkably well in many things, and very well in writing and surveying, but only pretty well in composition in the mother tongue. The principal says that is because I have not read enough, and he has presented me with some books by Ole Vig which are splendid, for I understand everything in them. The principal is very kind to me, he tells us so many things. Everything in this country is on a very small scale compared with what they have in foreign countries; we understand almost nothing, but learn everything from the Scotch and Swiss, and from the Dutch we learn gardening. Many travel to these countries; in Sweden, too, they are much cleverer than we, and the principal himself has been there. I shall soon have been here a year, and it seems to me that I have learned a great deal; but when I hear of all that the pupils know who go out after examination, and think that even they know nothing in comparison with foreigners, I get quite discouraged. And then the soil is so poor here in Norway compared with what it is abroad; nothing we can do with it pays. Besides, people have no energy. And even if they had, and if the land were much better, they have no capital to work with. It is wonderful that things go as well as they do.    6
  “I am now in the highest class, and it will be a year before I have done with it. But most of my comrades have gone, and I am longing for home. I seem somehow to stand alone, although of course I do not really; but it is so strange when one has been away a long time. I thought at one time that I should become so clever here, but there seems little enough chance of that.    7
  “What shall I do when I come away from here? First, of course, I shall come home. Afterwards I suppose I must look out for something to do, but it must not be far away.    8
  “Good-bye, dear parents. Greet those who ask after me, and tell them that I am well, but that I am longing to be home again.
“Your affectionate son,
  “DEAR SCHOOLMASTER, “This is to ask you whether you will forward the enclosed letter and say nothing about it to anybody. And if you will not, then you must burn it.
  “TO THE HIGHLY-HONOURED MARIT KNUT’S-DAUGHTER NORDISTUEN AT THE UPPER HILL FARMS. “You will be much surprised to receive a letter from me, but you need not be, for I only want to ask how you are getting on in every respect. You must let me know as soon as possible. As for myself, I have to tell you that I shall have finished my course here in a year.
“Most respectfully,
  “TO BACHELOR EYVIND PLADSEN, AT THE AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE. “I have duly received your letter from the schoolmaster, and I will answer since you ask me to. But I am afraid, because you are so learned, and I have a letter-writer, but there is nothing in it that will do. So I must try, and you must take the will for the deed, but you mustn’t show it, or you are not the person I take you for. And you are not to keep it either, for then it might easily fall into some one’s hands, but you are to burn it, you must promise me that. There are such a lot of things I should like to write about, but I don’t think I dare. We have had a good harvest, potatoes are a high price, and we have plenty of them here at the Hill Farms. But the bear has been terrible amongst the cattle this summer; at Ole Nedregaard’s he killed two head, and at our cottar’s he knocked one about so that it had to be killed. I am weaving a large web of cloth; it is like that Scotch stuff, and it is difficult. And now I will tell you that I am still at home, and that others would fain have it otherwise. Now I have no more to write about this time and so good-bye.
“P.S.—Be sure you burn this letter.”
  “TO AGRICULTURAL-STUDENT EYVIND PLADSEN. “I have told you, Eyvind, that whoso walks with God, he has a portion in the good heritage. But now you shall hear my counsel, and that is: not to take the world with yearning and tribulation, but to trust to God and never let your heart consume you, for then you have another God besides Him. Next, I must tell you that your father and mother are well, but I have a bad hip; for now the war makes itself felt again, and all that one has been through. What youth sows age reaps, and that both in soul and body; which latter now smarts and aches, and tempts one to continual complaining. But age must not complain, for wounds instruct us and aches preach patience, so that a man may have strength for the last journey. To-day I have taken up my pen for many reasons, and first and foremost on Marit’s account, who has become a God-fearing girl, but is as light-footed as a reindeer and unsettled in her purposes. She would like to hold to one, but her nature will not let her. But I have often seen that with such weak hearts our Lord is lenient and long-suffering, and never lets them be tempted beyond their strength, so that they are broken in pieces; for they are very fragile. I duly gave her the letter, and she hid it from all save her own heart. And if God gives this matter His countenance, I have nothing against it; for she is a delight to the eye of youth, as can plainly be seen, and she has plenty of earthly goods, and heavenly goods as well, for all her instability. For the fear of God in her mind is like water in a shallow pond: it is there when it rains, but when the sun shines it is gone.   13
  “My eyes will bear no more now; they see well enough out in the open, but ache and water over small things. In conclusion, I would say to you, Eyvind, in all your aspirations and labours take your God with you; for it is written, Better is an handful with quietness than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
“Your old schoolmaster,
  “TO THE HIGHLY-HONOURED MARIT KNUT’S-DAUGHTER, OF THE HILL FARMS. “Thank you for your letter, which I have read and burnt as you told me. You write about many things, but not a word of what I wanted you to write about. I dare not write about anything certain either, untill I get to know something of how it is with you in every way. The schoolmaster’s letter says nothing that you can take hold of; but he praises you, and then he says that you are unstable. You were that before. I don’t know what I am to believe, and therefore you must write, for I shall not be happy until you write. At present what I most like to remember is that you came on the rock that last evening, and what you then said to me. I will say no more this time, and so good-bye.
“Most respectfully,
  “TO THE BACHELOR EYVIND THORESEN PLADSEN. “The schoolmaster has given me another letter from you, and I have now read it. But I don’t understand it at all; I suppose that is because I am not learned. You want to know how I am in every way; and I am quite well and strong, and have nothing whatever the matter with me. I eat well, especially when I get milk-food, and I sleep at night, and sometimes in the day, too. I have danced a great deal this winter, for there have been lots of parties and great goings-on. I go to church when there is not too much snow, but it has been deep this winter. Now I hope you know everything, and if you don’t then I know nothing for it but that you must write to me again.
  “TO THE HIGHLY-HONOURED MARIT KNUT’S-DAUGHTER. “I have received your letter, but you seem to want me to be just as wise as I was before. I dare not write anything of what I want to write about, for I do not know you. But perhaps you don’t know me, either.   17
  “You must not believe that I am any longer the soft cheese out of which you pressed water when I sat and watched you dance. I have lain upon many a shelf to dry since that time. Nor yet am I like those long-haired dogs that for the slightest thing let their ears droop, and slip away from people, as I used to do; I take my chance now.   18
  “Your letter was playful enough; but it was playful just where it ought not to have been; for you understand me well; and you could guess that I did not ask for fun, but because of late I can think of nothing but what I asked about. I waited in deep anxiety, and then came nothing but trifling and laughter.   19
  “Good-bye Marit Nordistuen; I shall not look too much at you, as I did at that dance. I hope you may both eat and sleep well, and finish your new web of cloth, and especially that you may shovel away the snow that lies before the church door.
“Most respectfully,
  TO EYVIND THORESEN, STUDENT OF AGRICULTURE, AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE. “In spite of my old age, and weak eyes, and the pain in my right hip, I must yield to the urgency of youth; for it finds a use for us old folks when it has stuck fast. It coaxes and weeps until it has its way, and then it is off again directly, and will not listen to another word.   21
  “Now it is Marit. She comes with many sweet words to get me to write as follows, for she dares not write alone. I have read your letter; she thought she had John Hatlen or some other fool to deal with, and not one whom schoolmaster Baard had brought up, but now she finds she’s mistaken. Yet you have been too hard upon her, for there are some girls who joke in order not to cry, and both mean the same thing. But I like to see you take serious things seriously, else you cannot laugh at nonsense.   22
  “As to the fact of your caring for each other, that is plain enough from many things. As to her, I have often had my doubts, for she is as hard to grasp as the wind; but now I know that she has stood out against John Hatlen, and has thereby made her grandfather very angry. She was happy when your offer came, and when she joked it was not with any evil intention, but from joy. She has borne much, and she has done so in order to wait for him upon whom her heart is set. And now you will not take her, but throw her aside as a naughty child.   23
  “This was what I had to tell you. And I will add this advice, that you should come to an understanding with her, for you will probably have plenty to contend with in any case. I am an old man who has seen three generations; I know folly and its courses.   24
  “I am to greet you from your father and mother, they are longing for you. But I would not mention this before for fear of making you unhappy. You do not know your father; for he is like the tree that gives no sign before it is hewn down. But if you once get a little nearer him, then you will learn to know him, and you will marvel as in a rich place. He has been oppressed and silent in worldly matters, but your mother has eased his mind from worldly anxiety, and now it grows clearer towards the evening of his day.   25
  “My eyes are getting dim now, and my hand is weary. Therefore I commit you to Him whose eye ever watches, and whose hand never tires.
  “TO EYVIND PLADSEN. “You seem to be angry with me, and that hurts me very much. For I didn’t mean it like that, I meant it well. I remember that I have often treated you ill, and therefore I will now write to you, but you must not show it to anybody. At one time I had everything my own way, and then I was not good; but now nobody cares for me any more, and now I am unhappy. John Hatlen has made up a song in mockery of me, and all the boys sing it, and I dare not go to any dances. Both the old people know about it, and they scold me. But I am sitting alone, and writing, and you mustn’t show it.   27
  “You have learnt much, and can advise me, but you are now far away. I have often been down to your parents’ house, and I have talked with your mother, and we have become good friends; but I did not dare to say anything because you wrote so strangely. The schoolmaster only makes fun of me, and he knows nothing about the song, for no one in the parish would dare to sing such a thing before him. Now I am alone, and have no one to talk with. I remember when we were children, and you were so good to me, and always used to let me sit in your sledge. I wish I were a child again.   28
  “I dare not ask you to answer me any more; because I dare not. But if you would answer me, just once more, I would never forget it, Eyvind.
  “Dear, burn this letter; I scarcely know whether I dare send it.”   30
  “DEAR MARIT, “Thanks for your letter; you wrote it in a good hour. Now I will tell you, Marit, that I love you so that I can hardly stay here any longer, and if only you love me too, then John’s songs and other evil words shall be only leaves that the tree bears too many of. Since I got your letter I am like a new creature; double strength has come to me, and I fear no one in the wide world. When I had sent my last letter, I repented it so much that it nearly made me ill. And now you shall hear what that led to. The principal took me aside and asked what was the matter with me; he thought I was studying too much. Then he told me that, when my year was up, I might stay for another and pay nothing; I might help him with one thing and another, and he would teach me more. I thought then that work was the only thing left to me and I thanked him much: and even now I don’t regret it although I am longing for you, for the longer I am here the better right shall I have to ask for you one day. Now that I am so happy, I work for three, and never will I be behind in anything! You shall have a book I am reading, for there is a great deal about love in it. At night I read it when the others are asleep, and then I read your letter over again too. Have you thought of when we shall meet? I think of it so often, and you must try thinking of it too, and see how delightful it is. I am glad that I managed to write so much, although it was so hard; for now I can tell you all I want to and smile over it in my heart.   31
  “I will give you many books to read so that you may see how many crosses they have had who truly loved each other, and how they have rather died of grief than give each other up. And so shall we do also, and do it with great joy. It may be nearly two years before we see each other, and yet longer before we get each other, but with every day that goes it is one day less; this is what we must think whilst we work.   32
  “In my next letter I will tell you so many things, but tonight I have no more paper and the others are asleep. So I will go to bed and think of you and go on thinking of you until I fall asleep.
“Your friend,